Second Council of Constantinople

553. The fifth ecumenical council. In order to understand its decisions and decrees it is necessary to investigate some of the previous events. The Council of Chalcedon* (451), which attempted to present both sides of the incarnation question about the nature of Christ, did not produce the unity hoped for by its leaders. Instead, the decisions at Chalcedon began the Monophysite controversy which plagued the church for centuries. Egypt and other centers in the Middle East were the main centers of Monophysitism* and were in constant conflict with Constantinople and Rome. The emperors Justin and Justinian tried to use force to impose orthodoxy by appointing orthodox bishops to seats in Monophysite areas. These bishops could, however, only occupy their seats with the aid of the police, for the masses were clearly on the side of the Monophysites.

Justinian in 531 decided to change his policy and follow one of compromise. This was probably due to the influence of his wife Theodora, who was a secret Monophysite believer. She was able to mellow her husband's orthodoxy. Thus the emperor began to enforce a somewhat double policy. On the one hand he opposed Monophysitism, as is evidenced in an edict against them in 536; on the other, he wanted to please his wife, so he allowed the Monophysites to reestablish their church in Constantinople in 543. When the Second Council of Constantinople took place, he wanted to please the Monophysites by having the council and the papacy condemn the Three Chapters,* involving Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ibas of Edessa, who were all linked with Nestorianism,* the direct opposite of Monophysitism. The earlier council had cleared these men of heresy charges. Justinian, prior to 553, condemned these three leaders, and the Eastern bishops for the most part submitted to his edict. The Western bishops, however, including the Africans and Pope Vigilius, refused to sign it.

The council in 553, attended by 165 bishops, met and condemned the Three Chapters and thus moved closer to the Monophysite position. At the same time it condemned also the other extreme-that of Origenism.* Another decision of the council was to add a title to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Besides the already existent Theotokos (Mother of God), the council bestowed also the title Aeiparthenos (Ever-Virgin). They thus fixed in church dogma the perpetual virginity of Mary and considered the brothers of Jesus mentioned in Mark 3:31,32 as half brothers, cousins, or near relatives.

From the time of the Second Council one can begin speaking about the distinctiveness of Byzantine Orthodoxy in contrast with the Western Church. One of the distinctives is this particular interest to synthesize the two extremes of Christianity concerning the nature of Christ.