Framing the Controversy
The council was opposed by a great part of the Christian east. Led by some of the ablest theologians of those ancient times, this movement gained strength despite persecution and disabilities of various kinds.
The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel
Samuel begins by offering some background: the players, the issues, the obstacles – but first, the views of most present-day scholars (and keep in mind, these are not necessarily the views of Samuel – he is presenting the generally accepted history and narrative):
Traditionally, it has been held that Nestorius who presided over the see of Constantinople from 428 to 431 was a heretic as he had taught the foul doctrine of ‘two Sons’, and that on this ground he was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
This point will be of importance as Samuel proceeds in his examination. Nestorius was also opposed the use of the title Theotokos (Mother of God) for the Virgin Mary.
To give some flavor regarding those who taught according to Nestorius, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Two things are certain: first, that, whether or no they believed in the unity of the subject in the Incarnate Word, at least they explained that unity wrongly; secondly, that they used most unfortunate and misleading language when they spoke of the union of the manhood with the Godhead — language which is objectively heretical, even were the intention of its authors good.
But, demonstrating it isn’t so simple (or maybe it was just “unfortunate and misleading language”):
Nestorius, as well as Theodore, repeatedly insisted that he did not admit two Christs or two Sons, and he frequently asserted the unity of the prosopon.
To clarify the term prosopon:
The word person in its Greek form prosopon might stand for a juridical or fictitious unity; it does not necessarily imply what the word person implies to us, that is, the unity of the subject of consciousness and of all the internal and external activities.
Returning to Samuel: the extreme opposition to Nestorianism exposed another heresy, that of Eutychianism. Eutyches was an abbot in Constantinople who could exert much influence on the emperor’s court through his relationship with the emperor’s nephew.
Eutyches maintained that Godhead and manhood were so united in Christ that after the union the manhood became absorbed in the Godhead.
He was condemned as a heretic in a synod held by Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople, in 448. Yet Dioscorus of Alexandria, desiring to dominate the see of Constantinople, took advantage of the monk’s political support and condemned on a charge of heresy many of the orthodox prelates. Among these were the patriarch Flavian of Constantinople and Eusebius of Dorylaeum.
In his highhandedness Dioscorus went so far as to prevent the readin
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