Second Council of Ephesus

Second Council of Ephesus
Date 449
Previous council
First Council of Ephesus
Next council
Council of Chalcedon (not accepted by the Oriental Orthodox)
Convoked by Emperor Theodosius II
President Dioscorus of Alexandria
Attendance 130
Topics Christology, Nestorianism, Monophysitism
Documents and statements
Condemnations of Flavianus of Constantinople, Pope Leo I, Theodoret, and Domnus II of Antioch
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Second Council of Ephesus (commonly known as the Robber Council of Ephesus) was a Christological church synod in 449 AD convened by Emperor Theodosius II under the presidency of Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria.[1] It was intended to be an Ecumenical Council, but because of the scandalous nature of the proceedings, canon legalities, and the heterodox nature of the canons and decrees as viewed by the orthodox bishops of East and West (and the later ecumenical councils), it was never accepted as ecumenical. It was explicitly repudiated by the fourth and next ecumenical council, the Council of Chalcedon of 451,[1] and named the Latrocinium, or "Robber Council".[1][2]

The Council of Chalcedon gave rise to what has been called the Monophysite Schism[1][2] between those who accepted the Second Council of Ephesus and those who accepted the Council of Chalcedon: many Byzantine emperors over the next several hundred years attempted to reconcile the opposed parties,[1][3] in the process giving rise to several other schisms and teachings later condemned as heresy, such as monoenergism and monotheletism, which were devised as attempted compromises between the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian parties (cf. the Henotikon and the Three Chapters - the latter itself leading to another schism lasting over a century, the Schism of the Three Chapters).[1][3]

Both this council and that at Chalcedon dealt primarily with Christology,[1][2] the study of the nature of Christ. Both councils affirmed the doctrine of the hypostatic union and upheld the orthodox Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully Man. The Second Council of Ephesus decreed that in Christ there exists one united nature [miaphysis], that of a divine human. The Council of Chalcedon decreed that in Christ two natures exist, "a divine nature [physis] and a human nature [physis], united in one person [hypostasis], with neither division nor confusion".[1][2][3]

Those who do not accept the decrees of Chalcedon nor later ecumenical councils are variously named monophysites[1] (though this term is only correctly used to describe a small minority and is most often pejoratively applied to others), miaphysites,[1] or non-Chalcedonians,[4] and comprise what is today known as Oriental Orthodoxy, a communion of eight autocephalous ecclesial communions (Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Tewahedo, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Orthodox), the first in honor of which is the Pope of Alexandria, head of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church.[4] Those who accepted the teaching of Chalcedon but resided in areas dominated by Oriental Orthodox bishops were called by the non-Chalcedonians Melkites, or "King's men" (as the Emperors were usually Chalcedonians),.[1] The Antiochian Orthodox Church historically descends from these people. Shortly after the Council of Chalcedon, the miaphysite party appointed a Pope of Alexandria in opposition to the Chalcedonian Pope of Alexandria. Over the next few centuries, various popes usually held to either one side or the other although some accepting the Henotikon. Eventually, two separate papacies were established, each claiming sole legitimacy.[1][2]

The first session

The Acts by the Second Council of Ephesus are known through a Syriac translation by a monk, published in the British Museum (MS. Addit. 14,530), written in the year 535 AD. The first session is missing.

Attending signatories

There was insufficient time for Western bishops to attend, except a certain Julius of an unknown see, who, together with a Roman priest, Renatus (he died on the way), and the deacon Hilarius (who later became Pope himself), represented Pope Leo I. The Emperor gave Dioscorus of Alexandria the presidency: ten authentian kai ta proteia (Greek). The legate Julius is mentioned next, but when his name was read at Chalcedon, the bishops cried: "He was cast out; no one represented Leo." Next in order was Juvenal of Jerusalem, above both the Patriarch Domnus II of Antioch and Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople.

There were 198 bishops present at the Council, with eight representatives of absent bishops, and lastly the deacon Hilarius with his notary, Dulcitius. The question before the council, by order of the Emperor, was whether Patriarch Flavian, in a synod held by him at Constantinople beginning November 8, 448 AD, had justly deposed and excommunicated Archimandrite Eutyches for refusing to admit two natures in Christ. Consequently, Flavian and six other bishops, who had been present at his synod, were not allowed to sit as judges in the council.

Opening proceeding

The brief of convocation by Theodosius II was read. Then the Papal legates explained that, although it would have been contrary to custom for the Pope to be present in person, the Pope had sent a letter with the legates to be read at the council. In this letter, Leo I referred to his dogmatic letter to Flavian, the Tome of Leo, which he intended the council to accept as a ruling of faith.

However, the head notary declared that the Emperor's letter should be read first, and Bishop Juvenal of Jerusalem commanded that the letter of the Emperor be presented, ordering the presence at the council of the anti-Nestorian monk Barsumas.[5] The question of faith was next on the proceedings. Pope (Patriarch of Alexandria) Dioscorus declared that this was not a matter for inquiry but that they only had to consider recent activity, as all present had acknowledged that they strictly adhered to the faith. He was acclaimed as a guardian of the Faith and the Champion of Orthodoxy.

Eutyches was then introduced, and he declared that he held the Nicene Creed: to which nothing could be added, and from which nothing could be taken away. He claimed that he had been condemned by Flavian for a mere slip of the tongue, even though he had declared that he held the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus, and he had appealed to the present council. His life had been put in danger and he now asked for judgment against the calumnies which had been brought against him.

Eutyches' accuser, Bishop Eusebius of Dorylaeum, was not allowed to be heard. The bishops agreed that the acts of the condemnation of Eutyches, at the 448 AD Constantinople council, should be read, but the legates of Rome asked that Leo's letter might be heard first. Eutyches interrupted with the complaint that he did not trust these legates; they had been to dine with Flavian, and had received much courtesy. Pope Dioscorus decided that the acts of the trial should have precedence, and so the letter of Leo I was not read.

The acts were then read in full, and also the account of an inquiry made on April 13, 449 AD, into the allegation of Eutyches that the synodal acts had been incorrectly noted down, and then the account of another inquiry on April 27, 449 AD, into the accusation made by Eutyches that Flavian had drawn up the sentence against him beforehand. While the trial was being related, cries arose from those present, declaring a belief in one nature, that two natures meant Nestorianism, of "Burn Eusebius", and so forth. Flavian rose to complain that no opportunity was given to him to defend himself.

The Acts of the Second Council of Ephesus now give a list of 114 votes in the form of short speeches absolving Eutyches. Even three of his former judges joined in this, although by the Emperor's order they were not allowed to vote. Lastly, Barsumas added his voice. A petition was read from the monastery of Eutyches, which had been excommunicated by Flavian. The monks asserted that they agreed in all things with Eutyches, and with the holy fathers, and, therefore, the synod absolved them.

Eutyches was crafty enough to appear Orthodox at the time but, at a later date, he returned to his old beliefs, and was finally excommunicated by Patriarch Dioscorus.

Relations with the First Council of Ephesus

An extract from the acts of the first session of the First Council of Ephesus (431 AD) was read next. Many of the bishops, and also the deacon Hilarus, expressed their assent, some adding that nothing beyond this faith could be allowed.

Dioscorus then spoke, declaring that it followed that Flavian and Eusebius must be deposed, as it was that if an anathema was passed unjustly, he who passed it was to be judged by the same. No less than 101 bishops gave their votes orally, and the signatures of all the 135 bishops follow in the acts. Flavian and Eusebius had previously interposed an appeal to the Roman Pope and to a synod held by him. Their formal letters of appeal have been recently published by Amelli.

Response of Chalcedon

The evidence given at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon contradicts the account in the acts of this final scene of the session. It was reported that secretaries of the bishops had been violently prevented from taking notes, and it was declared that both Barsumas and Dioscorus struck Flavian. It was further reported that many bishops threw themselves on their knees to beg Dioscorus for mercy to Flavian, that the military were introduced and also Alexandrine Parabolani, and that a scene of violence ensued; that the bishops signed under the influence of bodily fear, that some signed a blank paper, and that others did not sign at all, the names being afterwards filled in of all who were actually present.

The papal legate Hilarius uttered a single word in Latin, "Contradicitur", annulling the sentence in Leo's name. He then escaped with difficulty.

Flavian was deported into exile, and died a few days later in Lydia. No more of the Acts were read at Chalcedon. But we learn from Theodoret, Evagrius, and others, that the Council voted to depose Theodoret himself, Domnus, and Ibas, Bishop of Edessa, Mesopotamia.

Subsequent sessions

The attitude of schism

The Syriac Acts take up the history where the Chalcedonian Acts break off. Of the first session only the formal documents, letters of the Emperor, petitions of Eutyches, are known to be preserved in Syriac, though not within the same manuscript. It is evident that the non-Chalcedonian editor disapproved of the first session, and purposely omitted it, not because of the high-handed proceedings of Dioscorus, but because the later Miaphysites generally condemned Eutyches as a heretic, and did not wish to remember his rehabilitation by a council which they considered to be ecumenical, but which the rest of Christianity scorned.


In the next session, according to the Syriac Acts, 113 people were present, including Barsumas. Nine new names appeared. The legates did not appear and were sent for, but only the notary Dulcitius could be found, and he was unwell. It was an uncanonical charge against St. Dioscorus at the Council of Chalcedon that he "had held an (ecumenical) council without the Roman See, which was never allowed". This manifestly refers to his having continued at the council after the departure of the legates.

Double jeopardy

The first case was that of Ibas, Bishop of Edessa. This famous champion of the Antiochian party had been accused of crimes before by Domnus, Bishop of Antioch, and had been acquitted, soon after Easter, 448 AD. His accusers had gone to Constantinople and had been granted a new trial by the emperor. The bishops Photius of Tyre, Eustathius of Berytus, and Uranius of Imeria were to examine the matter. These bishops met at Tyre, removed to Berytus, and returned to Tyre. Eventually, in February, 449 AD, they acquitted Ibas once more, together with his fellow-accused, Daniel, Bishop of Harran, and John of Theodosianopolis.

Cheroeas, Governor of Osrhoene was then ordered to go to Edessa to start a new inquiry. He was received by the people of Edessa on April 12, 449 AD, with shouts in honour of the emperor, the governor, the late Bishop Rabbula, and against Nestorius and Ibas. The detailed summary of this reception took up some two or three pages of the report that Cheroeas sent, along with two letters of his own, to Constantinople. The report gave details of the accusations against Ibas, and led to the emperor ordering that a new bishop should be chosen.

This report, which provided a history of the whole affair, was read at length by order of Dioscorus. When the famous letter of Ibas to Bishop Maris was read, cries arose such as:

"These things pollute our ears... Cyril is immortal. ... Let Ibas be burnt in the midst of the city of Antioch. ... Exile is of no use. Nestorius and Ibas should be burnt together!"

A final indictment was made in a speech by a priest of Edessa named Eulogius. Sentence was finally given against Ibas of deposition and excommunication, without any suggestion that he ought to be called to speak in his own defence.

In the next case, that of Ibas's nephew, Daniel of Harran, they declared that they had clearly seen his guilt at Tyre, and had only acquitted him because of his voluntary resignation. He was quickly deposed by the agreement of all the council. He, too, was not present and could not defend himself.

Next it was the turn of Irenaeus, who as an influential layman at the first Council of Ephesus had been known to favour Nestorius. He had later become Bishop of Tyre, but the emperor had deposed him in 448 AD under charges of bigamy and blasphemy, and Photius had succeeded him. The synod ratified the deposition of Irenaeus.

Aquilinus, Bishop of Byblus, had been consecrated by Irenaeus and was his friend. He was the next to be deposed. Sophronius, Bishop of Tella, was a cousin of Ibas. He was therefore accused of magic, and his case was reserved for the judgment of the new Bishop of Edessa — a surprisingly mild decision.

Condemnation of Theodoret

Theodoret, an opponent of Dioscorus and a personal supporter of Nestorius, had been confined within his own diocese by the emperor in the preceding year, to prevent his preaching at Antioch. Theodoret had been a friend of Nestorius, and for more than three years (431-434 AD) was a prominent antagonist of Cyril of Alexandria. But despite the fact the two great theologians had come to terms and had celebrated their agreement, Theodoret was rejected with scorn. Theodosius had twice written to prevent his coming to the council at Ephesus, and the council found a reason to depose him in his absence.

A monk from Antioch produced a volume of extracts from the works of Theodoret. First was read Theodoret's letter to the monks of the East (see Mansi, V, 1023), then some extracts from a lost Apology for Diodorus and Theodore. The very name of this work was sufficient, in the view of the council, to condemn Theodoret and Dioscorus pronounced the sentence of deposition and excommunication.

When Theodoret, in his remote diocese, heard of the sentence pronounced in his absence, he at once appealed to Leo in a letter (Ep. cxiii). He also wrote to the legate Renatus (Ep. cxvi), being unaware that he was dead.

Condemnation of Domnus

The council had a yet bolder task before it. Domnus of Antioch is said to have agreed in the first session to the acquittal of Eutyches. But he refused, on the plea of sickness, to appear at the later sessions of the council. He seems to have been disgusted, or terrified, or both, at the leadership of Pope Dioscorus. The council had sent him an account of their actions, and he replied (according to the Acts) that he agreed to all the sentences that had been given and regretted that his health made his attendance impossible.

Immediately after receiving this message, the council proceeded to hear a number of petitions from monks and priests against Domnus. Domnus was accused of friendship with Theodoret and Flavian, of Nestorianism, of altering the form of the Sacrament of Baptism, of intruding an immoral bishop into Emessa, of having been uncanonically appointed himself, and of being an enemy of Dioscorus. Several pages of the manuscripts are missing, but it does not seem that the patriarch was asked to appear, nor given a chance to defend himself. The bishops shouted that he was worse than Ibas. He was deposed by a vote of the council, and with this final act, the Acts come to an end.

Reception of the Council

The council wrote the customary letter to the Emperor (see Perry, trans., p. 431), who confirmed with another letter (Mansi, VII, 495, and Perry, p. 364). Dioscorus sent an encyclical to the bishops of the East, with a form of adhesion to the council which they were to sign (Perry, p. 375). He also went to Constantinople and appointed his secretary Anatolius as bishop of that see.

Juvenal of Jerusalem was loyal to Dioscorus. He had deposed the Patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople, but one powerful adversary yet remained. He halted at Nicaea and with ten bishops (probably the same ten Egyptian metropolitans whom he had brought to Ephesus), "in addition to all his other crimes he extended his madness against him who had been entrusted with the guardianship of the Vine by the Saviour", in the words of the bishops at Chalcedon, "and excommunicated the Pope himself".

Meanwhile, Leo I had received the appeals of Theodoret and Flavian (of whose death he was unaware) and had written to them, and to the Emperor and Empress, informing them that all of the Acts of the Council were nullified. He eventually excommunicated all who had taken part in it, and absolved all whom it had condemned (including Theodoret), with the exception of Domnus of Antioch, who seems to have had no wish to resume his see and retired into the monastic life which he had left many years before with regret.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Davis, SJ, Leo Donald (1990). The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology (Theology and Life Series 21). Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier/Liturgical Press. p. 342. ISBN 978-0-8146-5616-7.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Kelly, Joseph F (2009). The Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church: A History. Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier/Liturgical Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-8146-5376-0.
  3. 1 2 3 Pelikan, Jaroslav (1975). The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. p. 442. ISBN 978-0-226-65371-6.
  4. 1 2 John Anthony McGuckin, ed. (2011). The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 872.
  5. "Chalcedon – The Treachery that Split Christendom into two" (PDF). Bishoy’s Blog on the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Coordinates: 37°56′42″N 27°20′21″E / 37.94500°N 27.33917°E / 37.94500; 27.33917

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