Archive for the ‘Eutychius’ Category

>An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 20

October 5, 2010

>An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 20

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the twentieth in the multi-part series.

The First Councils of Ephesus (A.D. 431) / Third Ecumenical Councils

That pluralization is not a typo. You may have heard of the first council of Ephesus, also called the Third Ecumenical Council. It was held in Ephesus in 431. What tends not to be mentioned is this:

Who Called the Council(s)?

If you guessed, “the pope,” or less anachronistically “the bishop of Rome,” you would be wrong. The person who called the council was Theodosius II. It was not initiated by “the Church” but by the state.

Was the Council Fair? And why do you keep pluralizing Council?

Again, if this is a Holy Council of the universal church, specially blessed by the Holy Spirit, one might expect that it would be a fair council. It was not – or at least it gives the strong appearance of being unfair. Cyril of Alexandria headed up one faction that responded to Theodosius II’s call for the council. He arrived in Ephesus in advance of his theological opponents. When he learned that they were several days away, he went ahead and opened the council. His opponents arrived four days later and convened their own council in Ephesus. Each side deposed the other side.

Who won?

In the short term, Cyril’s party won. There was a rift between the parties of the rival parties, but the rift between the parties was resolved. In the long term, his leading opponent (Nestorius) remains synonymous with division of Christ into two persons, whether or not Nestorius actually held that view. On the other hand, phrases attributed to Cyril, such as “one nature after the union,” were later condemned by Chalcedon (A.D. 451), vindicating the opposing party to some degree.

Eastern Orthodox historian Meyendorff agrees:

The Chalcedonian definition of 451—two natures united in one hypostasis, yet retaining in full their respective characteristics—was therefore a necessary correction of Cyril’s vocabulary. Permanent credit should be given to the Antiochians—especially to Theodoret—and to Leo of Rome for having shown the necessity of this correction, without which Cyrillian Christology could easily be, and actually was, interpreted in a Monophysite sense by Eutyches and his followers.

– John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 33.

How was the Rift Resolved?

The rift was resolved by the adoption (without the mechanism of a council) of the Formula of Union. This formula condemned Nestorius, but forced Cyril to back off from the stand taken in his Twelve Anathemas. It resulted in a tottering peace, and that peace fell apart after Cyril’s death (A.D. 444), arguably due to the ferocity of Dioscorus, one of the leaders among those who were in Cyril’s party.

Norman Russell, an historian who I believe is Anglican (I’m not sure), explains:

The ‘precise facts’, although Cyril does not say so, are that the Formulary of Reunion [433] was the best compromise that he could have secured in these circumstances. The repudiation of Ephesus by the Eastern bishops under the leadership of John of Antioch meant that the council would have failed unless the Easterners could have been persuaded to accede to it retrospectively. And the power diplomacy exercised by the imperial commissioner Aristolaus, backed up by the menacing presence of the magistrianos Maximus, made it clear to Cyril what the alternatives were: doctrinal agreement between Alexandria and Antioch or the setting aside of the Council with the possible restoration of Nestorius and the certain banishment of Cyril. It is no wonder that Cyril suffered bouts of nervous depression before an accord was finally signed. The gloss that he put on the phraseology of the Formulary in his letter to Eulogius was that the ‘two natures’ refers to the Word and the flesh, for neither becomes the other as a result of the Incarnation. But the ‘two natures’ in itself says nothing about the union. For this we need to refer to ‘one incarnate nature of the Son’. The ‘one nature’ from ‘two natures’ is analogous to the formation of a single human being from the two constituent natures of body and soul. The words ‘one’ and ‘two’ in Cyril’s usage refer to two different levels of reality.

Cyril returned to this argument in greater detail in his First Letter to Succensus. Succensus, one of Cyril’s allies, although bishop of Diocaesarea in the territory of John of Antioch, had asked Cyril ‘whether one should ever speak of two natures in respect of Christ’. In reply Cyril rehearses the teaching of Nestorius, which he claims was derived from Diodore of Tarsus. The ‘twoness’ for Nestorius, as Cyril understood it, consisted in a man being joined to the Word in a nominal sense, so that man and the Word enjoyed a deemed equality by honour or rank. The assigning of different sayings in the Gospels either to the humanity or to the divinity is symptomatic of such an approach. The correct doctrine, by contrast, is that Christ is the pre-eternal Word born of the Virgin. Cyril knows that he is accused of Apollinarianism for teaching this. A strict union is in danger of being seen as a merger [σύνχσις], mixture [σύνκρασις] or mingling [φυρμός]. Cyril rebuts the slander. What we affirm, he says, is that the Word from God the Father united to himself a body endowed with a soul without merger [ἀσυνχύτως], alteration [ἀτρέπτως] or change [ἀμεταβλήτως]. It is necessary to maintain the two natures (i.e., the composite elements, the divine and the human, that make up Christ) as well as the one nature (i.e., the single subject who is the Son — ‘the one incarnate nature of the Word’). If either is missing our Christology cannot be orthodox.

It would perhaps have prevented a great deal of subsequent misunderstanding if Cyril could have gone one step further and made his second meaning of physis explicitly equivalent to hypostatis. Cyril accepted the Cappadocian identity of ousia in three separate hypostaseis on the Trinitarian level. But it was not until Chalcedon that an analogous distinction was applied to Christology: two natures but one hypostatis or prosopon. The reason why Cyril could not take that step was his conviction that the mia physis formula had been sanctioned by Athanasius, the church father so far as Cyril was concerned, In fact the phrase ‘one incarnate nature of God the Word’ had been devised by Apollinarius, who had put it forward in the statement of faith he sent to the Emperor Jovian in 363. This statement had been reassigned to Athanasius by Apollinarius’ disciples after his condemnation. Cyril was completely taken in by the forgery. He first used the mia physis formula in his five-volume polemic against Nestorius, and again in his important dogmatic letters to Eulogius and Succensus. To him it was a useful phrase of irreproachable provenance which emphatically ruled out Nestorius’ loose ‘prosopic union’ once and for all.

Norman Russell, his chapter in The Theology of St Cyril of Alexandria: A Critical Appreciation (London: T & T Clark, 2003), pp. 238-240.

But Did Chalcedon Contradict Ephesus?

Canon 7 of the Council of Ephesus states: “These things having been read aloud, the holy Council then decreed that no one should be permitted to offer any different belief or faith, or in any case to write or compose any other, than the one defined by the Holy Fathers who convened in the city of Nicaea, with Holy Spirit.

Yet, quite famously, the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) did write and compose another creed than that of Nicaea. The modified creed is still called the “Nicene Creed,” but is more suitably referred to as as the “Nicene-Constantinoplean Creed” (such a mouthful, it is easy to see why the more imprecise description is popular).

This was also a vindication for those of the party that had convened a council with Nestorius. After all, one of Dioscorus’ attacks on them was that the Formula of Union was essentially a supplemental creed beyond that of Nicaea, yet Chalcedon felt free to come up with a new creed – one that largely adopted the views of the Formula of Union.

Have you left out a council?

Yes, I left out another council that met in A.D. 449 in Ephesus. This council condemned the author of the Formula of Union and vindicated Eutychius, rejecting the arguments from Leo I (of Rome), and exonerated Eutychius. This council was also called by Theodosius II. Nevertheless, it was overturned by the council of Chalcedon in 451.

What Explains the Reversal?

Well, God’s Providence is certainly one explanation. But another, more to-the-point explanation, is that in July 450 Theodosius II fell off his horse and died. His sister Pulcheria was closely allied with Leo of Rome, in contrast to Chrysaphius, who had been running imperial affairs under Theodosius II, and who was allied with Eutychius. Pulcheria called the council of Chalcedon in 451, after having Chrysaphius executed and Eutychius exiled. From a human standpoint, Pulcheria controlled the council, and the result was just as she wished: Dioscorus was condemned and exiled, and Leo’s “Tome” (previously rejected de facto at Ephesus II, A.D. 449) was given a prominent place.

Eastern Orthodox historian John A. McGuckin, who has a very high view of Cyril, would disagree with my assessment:

But this, nothing else, is what the Chalcedonian text teaches, at least when it is read apart from the Leonine Tome, which has too often been taken as its exegetical commentary, but rather should be taken out of the interpretive picture since the Chalcedonian symbol was more in the manner of a corrective of Leo than a substantiation of him. This can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the verbal form which drives that whole central clause containing the four adverbs qualifying ‘in two natures’. It is none other than ‘Gnorizomenon’: ‘made known to the intellect.’ Chalcedon, therefore, teaches that Christ is ‘made known (to the intellect) in two natures’. It does not simply teach that ‘Christ is in two natures’ as the Antiochene system had suggested. Those who do not recognize or understand the importance of the difference are those who have not followed the whole fifth century Christological debate, but this certainly did not include the bishops present at Chalcedon. And so, the Chalcedonian decree, at this critical juncture, is clearly and deliberately, a profession of Cyril’s understanding of the union and, again, largely on his terms. The ‘made known’ of Chalcedon is substantially the ‘notional scrutiny’ (oson men heken eis ennoian) of Cyril’s First Letter to Succensus. Even when Cyril’s terminology was felt to be in need of correction, or clarification, whether to placate the West, or to exclude a Eutyches or a Dioscorus, it was instinctively to Cyril that they turned to supply the correction.

– John A. McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy, Its History, Theology and Texts (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994 ), p. 240.


Were there ever FSM-Trinitarians?

March 7, 2008

In a previous post, we have demonstrated that Surah 5 of the Koran was directed at Christianity (and Judaism) generally, but with some errors regarding the discussion of the Trinity.

Some folks (most Muslim, but now one Roman Catholic) would like to imagine that Mohamed was not addressing Christianity, but rather some sect that held to a Trinity of Allah, Jesus, and Mary, which we refer to (for convenience) as FSM-trinitarianism.

Leaving aside the internal evidence of Surah 5 (which defeats that argument), there is a dearth of external evidence to substantiate the existence of such a sect.

David Waltz, the Roman Catholic mentioned above, quoted the following:

“The three gods in the Koran (c. 4, p. 81, c. 5, p. 92) are obviously directed against our Catholic mystery: but the Arabic commentators understand them of the Father, the Son, and the Virgin Mary, an heretical Trinity, maintained, as it is said, by some Barbarians at the Council of Nice, (Eutych. Annal. tom. i. p. 440.) But the existence of the Marianites is denied by the candid Beausobre, (Hist. de Manicheisme, tom. i. p. 532;) and he derives the mistake from the word Roxah, the Holy Ghost, which in some Oriental tongues is of the feminine gender, and is figuratively styled the mother of Christ in the Gospel of the Nazarenes.” (Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 50, The Modern Library edition (n.d.), pp. 81, 82.)

Before we get to the rest of the analysis, it’s important to note:

1. That Gibbon, the historian providing the discussion, confirms the opinion set forth in my previous post, namely that Mohamed is attempting to interact with the doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, he goes so far as to say that it is obvious.

2. Gibbon notes that there is a dissent by the “Arabic commentators,” and identifies their source, but does not endorse that dissent.

3. Gibbon, in fact, cites evidence that undermines the dissent, and provides an explanation as to how Mohamed may have been confused by feminine reference to the Holy Ghost.

Incidentally, one can read the matter in context here: (link).

David wrote:

Until I read the above, I had never heard of attendees of the Councial of Nicea maintaining of a view of the Trinity that consisted of “the Father, the Son, and the Virgin Mary”. (any errors in original)

That’s not surprising of course. Gibbon mentions such evidence, but dismisses it. It’s interesting to note what David seems to observe and what he seems to overlook. Nevertheless, while we could simply dismiss the matter with Gibbon, let’s dig deeper into the matter.

David continued:

“Gibbon’s reference is to Eutychius’ (10th century Patriarch of Alexandria, and noted historian) Annals. This work is found in volume 111 of Migne’s Patrologiæ Græca, a volume, which until this morning, I did not have access to. I wanted to check Migne’s before mentioning Gibbon. ” (any errors in original)

Eutychius was a 10th century Melkite Patriarch in Alexandria. He reigned in the Coptic church in Egypt during a time when he was surrounded by the ruling majority of Fatamid Muslims. To maintain the position I presented on the previous page would have been dangerous to his health. As an interesting aside, he was also a Young Earth Creationist (placing Creation 5,500 years years before Christ).

There are several salient facts:

1) Eutychius lived more than 500 years after the council of Nicea.

2) Eutychius did not cite any evidence to support his claim, or explain in any way how he obtained this supposed information regarding Nicean attendees.

3) Eutychius’ claim was only that there were some who showed up at the Nicean council with such views. Eutychius, for example, did not even claim that they left with those views. Furthermore, Eutychius does not suggest that these folks left spiritual descendants that survived for centuries until the time of Mohamed.

4) Eutychius is criticized for his weakness as an historian, by historians such as E. W. Kemp and C. Wilfrid Griggs (adopting Kemp’s position) (link). Likewise David Cook indicated (and Gary W. Kronk adopted) that the Annales are “riddled with errors.” (link) See also, for similar comments (Philip Rousseau) (William Smith et al.) (William Scott et al.) (cf. response of Eutychian supporter)

Dave continued by providing a quotation:

Here is the quote from Migne’s: Mittens ergo Constantius rex in omnes passim regiones, patriarchas et episcopos convocavit, adeo ut post annum et duos menses Niceæ convenirent his mille quadraginta octo episcopi, sententiis et religionibus inter se discrepantes. Erant ex illia qui affirmarent Christum et Matrem ipsius duos esse deus præter Deuni [summon :] errant hi Barbari, et Marianitæ audierunt. (Patrologiæ Græca, Tomus CXI, col. 1005, sec. 439-440.) (errors in Waltz’s transcription are his own)

The correct quotation in key part is actually, “Erant ex illia qui affirmarent Christum et Matrem ipsius duos esse deos praeter Deum [summum:] erant hi Barbari, et Marianitae audierunt.” which being roughly translated is: “There were among them those that affirmed Christ and his Mother to be two gods besides God [the most high:] there were here Barbarians and Marianites heard.”

Furthermore, of course, this is only the Latin translation of what was presumably an Arabic original.

The full page can be read here (right hand column, clustered around the 440). A partial reproduction is shown below, click to expand the image for easier reading.

David concluded: “So, as you can now see for yourself, we now have Christian source for the existence of at least two Christian groups/sects that held to FSM (God [the Father], Christ, and Mother “in one”), backing up the testimony from the Qur’an.”

a) Leaving aside the question of the interaction between the Melkites and the Copts (on the one hand) and the Muslims (on the other hand), the fact that Eutychius was not Muslim is not very strong evidence against bias.
b) Eutychius suggests that the group came to Nicea, but does not call them Christians: in fact, he calls them Barbarians and Marianites.
c) Eutychius’ comment “Barbarians and Marianites” should probably be understood as heaped insults, rather than as a listing of two separate groups that held the same thing.


This is the best evidence that has been presented to try to rescue Mohamed’s claim about FSM Trinitarians, but it is more or less strawy. It’s a single witness who comes half a millenium after the alleged event took place. Furthermore, it’s an event that predates Mohamed’s claim by two centuries. Moreover, it is an event that is not described as having any geographical proximity to Mecca/Medina or even Arabia. It is an event alleged by a man living among Muslims. It is an event for which the man does not cite his sources. It is an event that is included in a book that has been repeatedly criticized for historical mistakes. It is an event that has (so far) only been conveyed to us in a Latin translation of an Arabic original.

In short, we can easily overcome the best evidence to support the existence of FSM-trinitarians, which was presented in order to provide an out for Mohamed under a hypothesis that Mohamed was (in some parts of Surah 5) addressing an heretical sect that has since disappeared. In short, the previously presented theory that Mohamed simply did not understand the doctrine of the Trinity has survived the challenge, and we may continue to safely assume that there were no FSM-trinitarians running around at the time Mohamed lived.

UPDATE: corrected Sunni to Fatamid, above, thanks to David Waltz.

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