Three Chapters Controversy

The three chapters were three “subjects” condemned by Emperor Justinian* in an edict of 543/4. His purpose was to conciliate the powerful Monophysite* group and retain their allegiance to church and crown. The three chapters were (1) the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia*; (2) the writings of Theodoret* of Cyrrhus against Cyril* of Alexandria and in defense of Nestorius; (3) the letter of Ibas* of Edessa to the Persian, Bishop Mari of Hardascir.

Although this edict did in fact undermine the authority and teaching of the Council of Chalcedon* (which had declared Theodoret and Ibas to be orthodox), the Eastern patriarchs accepted it without opposition. Pope Vigilius* rejected it at first, but after a visit to the emperor in Constantinople he endorsed it and made this public in his Judicatum of April 548, addressed to the patriarch of Constantinople. In the West, however, there was much opposition to the edict, and it found a leader in Bishop Facundus* of Hermiane.

When the Fifth Ecumenical Council met in May 553 at Constantinople, it decided in favor of the condemnation of the Chapters and against the efforts of Western bishops to have the condemnation withdrawn. A little later, Vigilius declared his submission to the decision of the council, but parts of the Western Church refused to follow the pope. The churches of N Italy, led by the clergy of Aquileia and Milan, broke off communion with Rome and caused a schism which lasted for half a century.