Council of Chalcedon

451. Held in the martyry of Euphemia, it was summoned by Marcian and Valentinian and attended by bishops from the civil dioceses of Oriens, Asia, Pontus, Thrace, Egypt, and Illyricum. Legates represented Leo of Rome, who like most Western bishops feared the Huns too much to travel far. Including two refugee Africans and a Persian, no more than 340 attended at one time, although 450 subscriptions were made. The emperors sought a common declaration between the Eastern bishops in accord with the creeds of Nicea and Constantinople, canonical epistles of Cyril, and the Tome of Leo. Thus the imperial commissioners resisted the scruples of bishops who feared to add to the faith and insisted on a new formulary, the Definitio, drawn up within the biblical and patristic tradition (see Chalcedon, Definition of).

The immediate rift had centered on Eutyches, condemned at Constantinople under Flavian and reinstated at the Ephesian synod (449) dominated by Dioscorus of Alexandria. At Chalcedon, Dioscorus was deposed, ostensibly for uncanonical action, although in effect his teaching was ostracized by conciliar support of the Tome. Theodoret and Ibas of Edessa, tending towards Nestorian teaching, were restored, but the earlier condemnation of Nestorius remained. The fall of the Alexandrian patriarch favored the see of Constantinople. Bishop Anatolius in committee steered preparation of the Definitio, and several canons proceeded to boost his authority. Either the bishop of Constantinople or the exarch of a diocese became the final appeal court in disputes involving (Eastern) metropolitans. Canon 28 confirmed Constantinople canon 3 correlating ecclesiastical honor with political importance, to the disgust of Rome and Alexandria. Further, Constantinople received the right to ordain metropolitans in the dioceses of Thrace, Asia, and Pontus as well as bishops among barbarian peoples.

Several canons reflect current affairs. Gang conspiracy, false accusation, and plunder directed against bishops were forbidden. Redundant clergy should not congregate at Constantinople. Clergy should not minister outside their local churches nor bishops outside their sees except as visitors bearing commendatory letters. Monks and clergy should not do state or secular work. Bishops should control the movements of monks and clergy. Other canons simply aim for good order. Clerical appointment is regulated, e.g., by opposing sinecure ordination. Marriage is forbidden after taking vows or orders. Episcopal churches should have short vacancies, a proper sequestration fund, and a financial steward. In new cities parochial division should follow the civil model.

Unity was not achieved. Rome rejected canon 28. Monophysite and Armenian churches still reject the council. But most Christian churches still respect the elusive Definition as the zenith of patristic christological endeavor.

J. Altaner, Patrology (ET 1960), pp. 291- 93; K. Sarkissian, The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church (1965); essay by S.L. Greenslade in The Councils and the Ecumenical Movement (1968).