The Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II)

Commemorated on July 25

      The Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II) was at Constantinople, held under the holy Emperor Saint Justinian I (527-565) in the year 553, to resolve the question about the Orthodoxy of three long-since dead bishops: Theodore of Mopsuetia, Theodoret of Kyr (Cyr) and Ibas of Edessa, who had expressed Nestorian opinions in their writings way back in the time of the Third Ecumenical Council (at Ephesus in year 431, Comm. 9 September). These three bishops had not been condemned later at the Fourth Ecumenical Council (at Chalcedon in year 451, Comm. 16 July), which condemned the Monophysites, and in turn had been accused by the Monophysites of Nestorianism. And therefore, to remove from the Monophysites the stance of accusing the Orthodox of sympathy for Nestorianism, and also to dispose the heretical party towards unity with the followers of the Chalcedon Council, the emperor Saint Justinian issued an edict: in it were condemned three "Chapters" of the three deceased bishops. But since the edict was issued on the emperor's initiative, and since it was not acknowledged by representatives of all the Church (particularly in the West, and in part, in Africa), a dispute arose about the "Three Chapters". The Fifth Ecumenical Council was convened for resolving this dispute.
      At this Council were present 165 bishops. Pope Vigilius, while being present in Constantinople, refused to participate in the Council, although he was three times asked to do so by official deputies in the name of the gathered bishops and the emperor himself. The Council was opened with Sainted Eutykhios, Patriarch of Constantinople (552-565, 577-582), presiding. In accordance with the imperial edict, the matter of the "Three Chapters" was carefully examined in eight prolonged sessions from 4 May to 2 June 553. Anathema was pronounced against the person and teachings of Theodore of Mopsuetia unconditionally. But as regards Theodore and Ibas the condemnations were confined only to certain of their treatises, while they as persons had been cleared without doubt by the Chalcedon Council because of repentance, and they were thus spared from anathema. The need of this measure was that certain of the proscribed works contained expressions used by the Nestorians to interpret to their own ends the definitions of the Chalcedon Council. But the leniency of the fathers of this Fifth Ecumenical Council, in a spirit of moderating economy as regards the persons of bishops Theodore and Ibas, instead embittered the Monophysites against the decisions of the Council. Besides which, the emperor had given the orders to promulgate the Conciliar decisions together with a chastening of excommunication against Pope Vigilius, as being like-minded with the heretics. The Pope afterwards concurred with the general frame of mind of the fathers and gave his signature on the Conciliar definition. But the bishops of Istria and all the region of the Aquilea metropolia remained more than a century in schism.
      At the Council the fathers likewise examined the errors of presbyter Origen, a long since dead reknown Church teacher of the III Century. His teaching about the pre-existence of the human soul was condemned. Other heretics were also condemned, who did not admit of the universal resurrection of the dead.
      [trans. note: Both the Monophysite and the Nestorian heresies ultimately deny the Chalcedon Fourth Ecumenical Council's definition of the Son of God our Lord Jesus Christ as One Divine Person the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity in a mysteried hypostatic union (without mixture or confusion) of His perfect Divine Nature and His perfect Human Nature. The Monophysite (OneNature) heresy affirms only the Divine Nature of Christ, and denies His Human Nature. At the opposite pole, the earlier Nestorian heresy in various forms asserts that there are two persons in Christ: the one Divine, the other Human; which is to say that there is a Christ Who is God and a Christ Who is man but they are not one and the same Person, which is ultimately to say that the Only-Begotten Son of God did not truly become humanly the Son of Man, but remains separate. Nestorianism is also a Mariological heresy, asserting that Mary is only "Christotokos" (bearer of Christ), but that She is not "Theotokos" ("Bogoroditsa", i.e. Mother of God, "Bogomater", "Mater tou Theou"). Both these heresies originate in an attempt to quell the "intellectual scandal", that in Christ, God truly has become Man, while perfectly preserving the dignity and integrity of both the Divine and the Human Natures that our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the God-Man, rather than being "merely God" or "merely Man". Both heresies are imperfect attempts to deal with the abyss separating God and man which is overcome in the salvific Divine Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      The imperial intrusion of Justinian on the Church's perogatives obviously but worsened matters. The innovation of retroactively anathemising those long since dead was in general greeted with dismay by many, and Justinian himself is alleged to have for a time flirted with the Monothelite heresy whilst persecuting the Orthodox. The secular considerations of restoring under Justinian's rule the Roman "Western Empire" underlay the captivity and rough treatment of Pope Vigilius, and the need for Byzantium to placate Monophysite Egypt, in vain, as indeed our account relates. But amidst all the external considerations, it pleased the Lord that the Holy Spirit should inspire the fathers of the Council in a further definition of Orthodoxy, that preserves the integrity and dignity both of God and of mankind, without the distortion of either that transpires within the Nestorian or Monophysite heresies.]

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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